Backing for £200k scheme to reopen old village jail

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A COMMUNITY project to breathe new life into one of Yorkshire’s best surviving examples of a village jail and stocks is gathering pace – but campaigners may need to raise up to £200,000 of grant funding for it to be a success.

Illingworth Old Gaol in Halifax is a Grade II* listed building dating from 1823 but is on English Heritage’s at-risk register and in desperate need of renovation, having been neglected and vandalised over several years.

The recently-formed North Halifax Historic Buildings Preservation Trust is now stepping up its campaign to preserve the building by creating a small museum from the Old Gaol and Old Co-op store.

Yesterday volunteers recruited schoolchildren from Illingworth’s Whitehill Community Academy to recreate a photograph taken 100 years ago when the Old Gaol was used by the Illingworth Industrial Provident Society as storerooms for an adjacent shop.

West Yorkshire Police halted traffic on Keighley Road for a few minutes as pupils got into place for the Yorkshire Post photographer.

In 1913 children gathered in their Sunday best to mark the Golden Jubilee of the founding of the local Provident Society.

Whitehill headteacher Roy Hepplestone said: “It is very important that we preserve our heritage for the community but also for the children as this is a primary source of historical interest which is worth fighting for.

“We fully support the initiative and hope that many of our children, and generations to come, benefit from this wonderful resource.”

The Preservation Trust is working on a business plan to take over the building from Calderdale Council, which initially wanted it to be converted into a private home, until protests forced a re-think.

The trust has recently been successful in passing the first stage of Calderdale Council’s asset transfer process with a view to taking over ownership of the building, and recently held two open days.

Earlier this month the Trust accepted a grant from the Architectural Heritage Fund to allow it to produce a project viability report. This allowed the Trust to appoint conservation architect Britt Harwood, of INC Architecture, who will establish the likely costs of repairing and refurbishing the building.

Terry Melia, one of the trustees, said: “The AHF grant will enable the trustees to look at various other additional options for the Old Gaol and Co-op store to be self-sustaining.

“In addition to restoring the gaol as a small local museum we may have to consider other potential uses for parts of the building, such as a craft worker’s or artist’s studio – possibly even some form of very unusual holiday or weekend letting accommodation that might particularly appeal to those cyclists who in future will want to ride the route of the Yorkshire Grand Départ of the 2014 Tour de France.

“The nearest section of that route passes within six miles of the gaol on its way between Keighley and Hebden Bridge.”

Mr Melia said the project was a revival of the ideals of the local co-operative movement.

“We have had a tremendous amount of support from hundreds of people including many local residents, our local primary school, English Heritage, the Architectural Heritage Fund, councillors, council officers, a local legal practice, voluntary sector bodies and people from outside the area who have a particular interest in helping to save Illingworth Gaol which is thought to be the best remaining example of a village gaol in Yorkshire.”

Craig McHugh, of English Heritage, added: “We’re pleased to see that the North Halifax Historic Buildings Preservation Trust has been established to try and save the former Illingworth Gaol and are greatly encouraged by the tremendous level of local community interest in the building.”

Visit www.illingworthgaoland for more information.